NASHVILLE – During a normal year, the Titans would be in the second week of their offseason program.
Players and coaches would be working at Saint Thomas Sports Park, getting geared up for the 2020 season together.
But this year is not normal for anyone, and that includes the Titans.
So instead, the team is in its first week of a virtual offseason program, which was agreed to by the NFL and NFL Players Association in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is strictly virtual – and voluntary -- with on-field work only allowed when all facilities are reopened.
"It's definitely different, and I think it's something we're all getting used to," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "We're working the kinks out as far as the technology. But as far as us being on the screen, honestly, I think it's kind of fun. Obviously, we can't actually be in the room together, but we're still cracking jokes and stuff like that. It's almost like we're all in the meeting room, so that has been fun. Overall, I think we're all handling it the best we can."
At this point, the Titans have no choice.
For the Titans and teams across the NFL, the virtual period of the offseason program will consist of three weeks of classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs that use videoconferencing.
Teams won't be able to participate in on-field work until all 32 team facilities can reopen, and because some NFL cities are lagging behind others in dealing with the pandemic, that could be a while.
"It's strange," Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "It's weird not being able to be in the building and spend time around the coaching staff and the guys. Really missing that aspect right now. I always look forward to getting back in the building, and spending time around the guys and coming together. I'm not able to do that right now, so it's strange. But I think with (Mike) Vrabel and Art (Smith), and really guys have really bought in to what we're allowed to do, and that's all virtual. Trying to make the best of the situation, do the best we can with what we've been given. Really trying to learn in these meetings, have some fun talking with each other, but then also really kind of buckle down and detail things that we started last year and can build on this year."
Teams across the NFL are still working out the kinks.
Byard acknowledged there was one instance earlier this week when someone left a TV on low in the middle of a meeting, and it caused static. Internet connections have gone out during Zoom calls. The mute button has become a necessary friend.
Not all players are in on the same virtual meetings. The team is dividing up into position groups, trying to cover as much ground as possible.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel, just like he does when the team is in the building, has popped in and out of meetings.
"We try to figure out what the situation is, and we're going to make the best of it," Vrabel said leading up to the virtual meetings taking place. "We're going to be creative with whatever the rules are, and whatever is best for our players, that's what we're going to do.
"Whenever they say we can get on the field, or we can't get on the field, we're going to try to make sure that our players are as prepared as they can possibly be when that time comes for them to come back to our facility or engage in conversations with our coaches remotely."
The Titans offense is expected to remain largely the same in 2020, with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.
Defensively, the Titans have undergone some changes in personnel and the coaching staff, starting with the offseason retirement of defensive coordinator Dean Pees. At this point, Vrabel has not publicly named his replacement, or provided too many hints about his plans on defense for the 2020 season.
This much is certain: Vrabel wants players to be mentally and physically ready for the opening of training camp — whenever that might happen.
In addition to spending time in virtual meetings, players have been on their own for workouts.
"I think a lot of (people) are kind of playing the season by ear, just trying to figure out when we're going to start up and things like that," Byard said. "Once we hit the ground running of course … (we want to) start off where we left off last year and try to take this thing to the Super Bowl this time."